19 April 2015

"NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD" (Chilling 20 Movies Pack, #3) + 1990 Remake & 2006 Remake

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD

Working Titles:
Night of the Flesh Eaters / Night of Anubis

German Title:
Die Nacht der lebenden Toten

USA, 1968
Director: George A. Romero

9/10





Nice to see that there's always 1 or 2 classics in those Mill Creek boxes, and this one is undoubtedly one of the greatest and most popular horror film classics ever made: Maestro George A. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead", obviously not the first film about undead people, but definitely the one that defined/redefined them as bloodhungry and cannibalistic bastards, better known as "Zombies" - even though this word wasn't actually used in the film, they call 'em "Ghouls".


Shot on a shoestring budget of only about $114.000,- over a period of 7 months in 1967 and released in the autumn of 1968, Romero's debut feature became a super-important game-changer for the horror genre by introducing a completely new kind of terror: average Americans who suddenly turn into slow and unintelligent, but ruthless and aggressive cannibals, harbored by an insatiable hunger for human flesh - and the only way to properly kill them is to destroy their brains (Boom Headshot!), a huge deviation from the 'Haitiian folklore zombie' who is just a mindless corpse, reanimated by Voodoo witchcraft and shit.

There's no doubt that Romero is an innovative, imaginative and visionary filmmaker. His directing style is genius and he has a wonderful eye for detail and composition, light and atmosphere. Due to the low budget, he decided to shoot "Night of the Living Dead" on 35mm black-and-white-film, and it was a marvellous decision. The cemetery in the beginning of the film looks bleak as fuck (even bleaker than the one in Albert Band's "I Bury The Living" which obviously had an influence on Romero), the interior of the farmhouse looks scary as hell, and when we first get to see the zombies eating human flesh... damn, it's pretty disturbing. Several colorized re-releases (1986, 1997, 2004 & 2010) prove the same: this movie needs no colors.


Like all of Romero's zombie flicks, "Night of the Living Dead" isn't just a simple horror film. In fact, Romero had the guts to combine classic horror tropes (fear of the unknown, creepy house/basement/cemetery etc.) with subversive critique on the America of the 60s regarding racism (even though this wasn't attended, according to Romero), international Cold War politics, the situation in Vietnam, and factitiousness of society, especially on capitalism and the oh-so-unquestionable functionality of the nuclear family. This was quite a first in horror. Until 1968, Horror was merely used for "entertainment". With NLOTD, the horror genre suddenly had a message.

Next to the top-notch direction and effective pacing, there are other things worth praising, such as the stunning script - written by Romero and John A. Russo ("Santa Claws") - which is full of excellent twists and turns, the powerful cinematography, the effective editing (both by Romero), the moody music which was largely compiled of stock music from the extensive music library of Capitol Records, music that was previously used in films like "Teenagers from Outer Space", the eerie zombie make-up, the look and usage of blood and gore (actually, chocolate syrup and roasted ham!), and of course, one of cinema's most unexpected, most devastating shocker endings. I guess back then, only "Planet of the Apes" was more shocking (interestingly, this was released the very same year - what a great year!).


There's also some great acting going on here: Duane Jones as the ill-fated hero Ben (first time a Black actor starred in a mainstream horror film), Judith O'Dea as Barbra (impressive actress, but her character is just useless, which is probably the movie's only annoying flaw), Karl Hardman as choleric and hot-headed semi-smartass Harry, Marilyn Eastman as Harry's wife, Romero-regular Bill Hinzman as the cemetery zombie, and Kyra Schon as scary zombie-kid.

It might be a bit dated, it might be a bit too un-graphic, especially for younger audiences, but that won't hurt its reputation as one of the most important, most influential horror films of all time. Thanks George!

Wiki ~ Imdb





NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
(Remake)

German Title:
Night of the Living Dead - Die Rückkehr der Untoten

USA, 1990
Director: Tom Savini

6/10







The directorial feature debut of legendary FX/make-up artist and cult actor Tom Savini is - like Imdb user MisterWhiplash perfectly described - a "Remake of something that didn't need to be remade, but it's still alright". I have no idea how and why this remake came into existence, but... well, it seems as if everybody involved was freaking excited about it.


George A. Romero re-wrote his original screenplay for this remake and even served as its executive producer, Tom Savini, who was make-up effects artist on Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" and "Day of the Dead", ended up directing it, and the whole thing was co-produced by John Russo (co-writer of the original 1968 screenplay) and Russell Streiner (producer of the 1968 original).

It's a neat flick, but absolutely nothing special. Savini's direction is quite bland, there's hardly any tension or atmosphere, the pacing is way too slow, and the absence of the original's super-effective black-and-white photography is sorely missed. Also, Paul McCollough's ("The Majorettes") score is unbelievably boring. They should have used some stock music instead...


What's really, REALLY good is the cast: my goodness, Tony "Candyman" Todd is simply amazing as Ben, and Patricia "Babylon 5" Tallman just kicks ass as Barbra 2.0, a badass zombie-killer-babe who knows how to survive the apocalypse. More great performances by the ever-so-fabulous Bill Moseley ("Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2"), William Butler ("Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3"), Heather Mazur (who disappeared into TV-land) and Tom Towles ("Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer"), though his character, a nasty re-interpretation of the original Harry, is fucking unbearable.

Also, terrific-looking zombies, ace gore effects, an unexpectedly epic explosion, and a surprisingly grim ending, not as shocking as the original's ending,
but still pretty wow!
Overall: okay. I've seen worse remakes, I've seen better remakes. Whatever.




NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 3D

Alternate German Title:
Night of the Living Dead 2007

USA, 2006
Director: Jeff Broadstreet

3/10








Not just another completely unnecessary remake, but also a stupid, unnecessary and expendable one. Jeff Broadstreet, director/writer of low-budget rubbish like "Dr. Rage" or "Sexbomb" thought it's a good idea to shoot a 3D knock-off of Romero's horror classic. As expected, it turned out to be pretty crappy. Note: I've only seen it in 2D, but according to many, many critics and reviewers, it doesn't matter if watched in 3D or 2D. Both versions are equally un-entertaining.


Broadstreet's direction is simply awful. He has absolutely no idea how to create any form of tension or suspense, and he obviously had no clue what was going on before the camera - or maybe he simply didn't care. Screenwriter Robert Valding tried so hard to be oh-so-funny and oh-so-inventive - but due to the fact that he's just a god-awful writer, it all came off as huge mess.

The (non-)actors stumble around, dropping unimportant dialogue, doing this, doing that, doing nothing. Even the zombies seem to be bored to death (pun intended). The make-up effects range from ok to plain laughable, the few CGI effects are horrid (incl. most ridiculous "Bullet Time" scene ever created) and the music
is just lame.


The only one who delivers a terrific performance is obviously Sid Haig, one of the few actors who is able to turn a god-awful movie into a mildly watchable one (like he did in "Creature" or "Hatchet III"). There's also, a few cool kills, decent cinematography, an ok opening, and I loved the scene with Sid Haig's zombie father. Other than that, an awful and superfluous remake.

Wiki ~ Imdb

There are obviously more NOTLD remakes, such as:

"Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated" (2009)
"Another Night of the Living Dead" (2011)
"Mimesis: Night of the Living Dead" (2011)
"Night of the Living Dead: 3D Re-Animation" (2012)
"Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection" (2012)
"Night of the Living Dead" (2014)

...and according to Imdb, there are several others in the making, like
"Night of the Living Dead: Contagion",  "Night of the Living Dead: Genesis", "Night of the Living Dead: Origins" or "Night of the Living Dead: Rebirth"

...but you know what? I couldn't care less about any other re-dos. I stick to the original and have little motivation to check out any other knock-offs. Nuff said.

(Extensive reviews for the 5 other film in the "Living Dead" franchise coming soon.)

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